Russia’s actions a threat to world order, says British PM

Vidya Ram London | Updated on January 09, 2018

British Prime Minister Theresa May - REUTERS

Russian President Vladimir Putin   -  Reuters

Flays Vladimir Putin over Russia’s involvement in UK’s politics

British Prime Minister Theresa May launched a stinging attack on Russia as she accused forces within the country of planting fake stories in an effort to “sow discord” in the West and “undermine our institutions”.

Her comments, made at a dinner late on Monday, are in stark contrast to those of the US President Donald Trump with whom her government has sought to build strong foreign policy bonds with. Trump has said he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s insistence that the Russians hadn’t interfered in the US elections, despite the findings of the US intelligence agencies.

‘UK to work with allies’

Speaking at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in central London, May, who has faced criticism over her perceived eagerness to gloss over differences with the US and avoid steps that could jeopardise that relationship, told those gathered that Russia’s actions threatened the international order, pointing to its annexation of Crimea, meddling in elections and hacking the Danish Ministry of Defence and Germany’s Bundestag.

“We know what you are doing,” she said in remarks directed at Putin, adding that Russia was “seeking to weaponise information; deploying its state-run media organisations to plant fake stories and photo-shopped images in an attempt to sow discord in the West and undermine our institutions”.

She warned that Britain would do whatever was necessary to protect itself and would work with allies, including through a reformed NATO.

May’s comments – the latest in a series of critical statements on the US, including its decision to withdraw from the Paris Treaty – comes amid a host of questions in Britain relating to Russian involvement in domestic politics.

In April, a parliamentary committee inquiry concluded that there was possible foreign interference during the Brexit referendum, when the government website for registering to vote collapsed shortly before the deadline. Without levelling specific allegations against any one or any nation, the report concluded that Russia and China used a “cognitive approach based on understanding of mass psychology and of how to exploit individuals”.

Earlier this month, the chair of a parliamentary committee inquiry into fake news wrote to the CEOs of Facebook and Twitter asking them to provide details of Russia-linked accounts that had been removed related to the UK, following the evidence provided to the US Senate committees. Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission of Britain is investigating whether one of the main anti-EU campaign groups breached strict electoral finance rules during last year’s Brexit referendum. Amid speculation that some of the funding may have come from Russia, its backer has insisted that the claims were completed unsubstantiated.

Johnson in trouble

Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has faced questions after a photograph emerged of him alongside Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese academic, who is caught up in the US investigation into Russian influence on the presidential election, amid allegations that he said he had access to “dirt” on Hilary Clinton.

On Monday, the Speaker of the House of Commons refused to allow a question from an MP to Johnson on the photograph. The latest comments by May on Monday mark a notable change in tone, from a prime minister who has previously been cautious in addressing the issue of Russian involvement.

“We take very seriously issues of Russian intervention, or Russian attempts to intervene in electoral processes or the democratic processes of any country, as we would with any other states involved in trying to intervene in elections”, May said in early November.

“Asking why May suddenly acknowledging Russian interference now having stonewalled for months,” tweeted Labour MP Ben Bradshaw following her remarks.

On Tuesday, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted a picture of May sipping a glass of red wine. “We know what YOU are doing as well. Dear Theresa, we hope, one day you will try Crimean #Massandra red wine.”

Published on November 14, 2017

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